HMP Holme House – an ‘ambitious’ prison dealing with organisational changes and very serious drugs problems

HMP Holme House, near Stockton on Tees, had a “very serious” drugs problem, with nearly 60% of prisoners saying it was easy to get hold of drugs, according to a report on an unannounced inspection by HM Inspectorate of Prisons.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said a quarter of prisoners had acquired a drug problem in the jail, a local prison holding nearly 1,200 adult men. Spice, the synthetic cannabis, was a particular problem.

“The prison was not as safe as it had been and at the heart of our concerns was a very serious problem with drugs,” Mr Clarke said.

“The threat to the well-being of individuals was manifest and rarely have we seen so many serious and repeated incidents of prisoners under the influence of clearly harmful substances.  Despite this, the prison did not have an integrated or effective supply reduction strategy in place.  Stopping drugs from entering the prison was the prison’s main priority in our view.” Despite the high caseloads, though, support for drug and alcohol-addicted prisoners was “very good.”

HMP Holme House was inspected in July 2017, at a time of significant change. It was part of a group of prisons designated as “reform prisons” and it was intended that Holme House would lose its local prison function and become a category C training prison. The full impact of changes was emerging but had yet to be fully realised.

Holme House was last inspected in late 2013 and inspectors found a significant deterioration in outcomes across most assessments. The prison was not as safe as it had been and at the heart of concerns was the very serious problem with drugs. “Mandatory testing suggested a positive rate within the prison of 10.45%, which was bad enough, but this rose to nearer 36% when synthetic cannabinoids or new psychoactive substances (NPS) were included. Nearly 60% of prisoners thought it was easy to get drugs in the prison,” Mr Clarke said.

Violence had risen since 2013 but some good work had been done to try to reduce it, though this needed to progress with greater urgency. Inspectors were concerned that there had been six self-inflicted deaths since 2013 but not all the recommendations made following the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s (PPO) investigations had been implemented effectively.

Holme House, a modern prison, had relatively clean internal communal areas, though too many cells were poorly equipped and often in an unhygienic condition, or were overcrowded. Many prisoners had difficulty in accessing the basics of daily living – including bedding, clean clothes and cleaning materials – although the recent introduction of in-cell telephones was a step forward in supporting family ties.

Most prisoners felt respected by staff but relationships were often strained and consultation was limited. The identification of and support offered to minority groups were reasonable overall, but there was evidence of worse outcomes for black and minority ethnic prisoners. This needed to be understood and addressed.

Fully employed prisoners could expect to be out of their cells for about 9.5 hours a day, but time out of cell was much worse for those without employment, with 35% of prisoners locked in their cells during the day. Regular regime restrictions, in large part due to staff dealing with incidents, were causing significant disruption.

Peter Clarke said:

“Holme House is an ambitious and aspirational prison with plans to deliver a significant programme of change. Our commentary in no way seeks to undermine those ambitions, but there was a significant gap between aspiration and the day-to-day reality. This inspection was disappointing and demonstrated a need for greater attention to the basic requirements of safety, decency and prisoner rehabilitation.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of HM Prison and Probation Service, said:

“As the Chief Inspector says, the Change Programme at Holme House has been undermined by the illicit supply and use of psychoactive drugs, which is why addressing this problem is a top priority.

“The Governor has increased the number of security and searching staff and is working closely with the Police to tackle supply. Work is also taking place with NHS England to reduce drug dependency and as a result, violent and drug-related incidents have significantly reduced over recent months.”

– ENDS –

Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the full report, published on 5 December 2017, can be found here.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. HMP Holme House is a purpose-built category B prison, which opened in May 1992. It expanded in the late 1990s with the building of two further houseblocks, providing 235 additional places. Two new workshops opened in 1997 and an additional houseblock with 224 places opened in 2010, along with two further regimes buildings providing activity places for around 200 prisoners. In June 2016 it was announced that HMP Holme House would be one of the four reform prisons. The “reform prisons” change agenda brought with it the potential for greater devolved powers for the governor and new ways of working. It also placed the establishment in a cluster with neighbouring prisons.
  4. This unannounced inspection took place between 3-4 and 10-13 July 2017.
  5. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons press office on 020 3334 0357 or 07880 787452, or at if you would like more information.